How you look and feel when you’re older may depend on how you live your life when you’re younger. To a great extent, good senior health means making good choices early on. That means getting rid of bad habits now that could threaten your physical well-being later. Here are eight culprits that speed up the aging process.
It’s certainly no secret that smoking is bad for your health. But did you know it’s bad for your looks, too? Studies show that in addition to shortening your life by increasing your risk for heart and lung disease, smoking can activate enzymes that break down the elasticity of your skin. Even if you’re a closet smoker, the fine wrinkles and pallor that cigarettes cause can give you away — just one more reason to snuff out those smokes.
2. Crash Dieting
Who hasn’t wanted to drop 10 pounds in a hurry before a special birthday or a long-awaited vacation? Quick fixes are tempting, but crash dieting is never a good idea. It’s not a long-term solution — in fact, it may be a long-term threat. Research shows that it can make you feel older by reducing your energy level, messing with your concentration, and making you depressed and irritable. Crash dieting can also cause wrinkles and sagging, because aging skin, which has less elasticity, doesn’t have time to adjust to the weight loss. Weight management is important for senior health, but don’t try to lose more than one or two pounds a week.
3. Not Getting Enough Sleep
You may think that as you get older you don’t need as much sleep, but experts say you still need seven or eight hours every night for optimal senior health. Not getting enough sleep can keep you from functioning well during the day. It can also lead to weight gain, another drag on senior health. If you are going to bed at a reasonable hour, yet feel like you’re dragging during the day, talk to your doctor to rule out sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, which is common in seniors.
4. Skipping Fruits and Veggies
It’s true that as you get older you need fewer calories. However, if you want to have a spring in your step and the glow of healthy aging — rather than a drawn complexion with wrinkles — you need to get those calories from good, nutritious sources. A junk-food or meat-and-potatoes diet just won’t cut it. Experts say the best sources are lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Also be sure your diet includes fish with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well as plenty of fiber from whole grains.
5. Holding on to Grudges
Life is too short and precious to hold on to old grudges. Learning how to let go and forgive may add years to your life and make the years you have left a lot more productive. (You might even notice fewer wrinkles from frowning.) Studies show that forgiveness leads to better physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Benefits include lower blood pressure, less depression, less stress, and less anxiety.
6. Carrying Around Stress
Nothing can make you feel or act older like mental decline. Studies show that letting go of stress can help you avoid cognitive impairment and keep your mind young. Try to identify your stressors and find ways to avoid them or to diffuse their effects through relaxation techniques such as meditation or exercise.
7. Becoming a Couch Potato
Speaking of exercise… Regular physical activity is a healthy aging essential for many things, from staving off heart disease to keeping stress at bay. But one of the main reasons to keep exercising is to prevent injury. An injury that limits mobility and, in turn, your independence is a potentially life-threatening blow to senior health. Research shows that just 30 minutes of walking three times a week can lower your risk for a fall, the leading cause of disabling injuries in seniors. So break the sloth habit and get moving.
8. Drinking Alcohol
You may have heard that moderate drinking is good for senior health, but what’s considered “moderate” changes as you get older. According to the American Geriatrics Society, more than one drink a day for an older man and half of one for an older woman can be too much. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause cognitive decline and may contribute to falls. Alcohol can also interfere with some medications. Ask your doctor how much alcohol — if any — is safe for you.